N. Korea reports COVID cases, fires 3 ballistic missile tests

SEOUL, May 12 (Reuters) – North Korea fired three ballistic missiles toward the sea off its east coast on Thursday, South Korea and Japan said, in its latest tests aimed at advancing its weapons programs, even as it faces a COVID-19 outbreak reported for the first time.

Three short-range ballistic missiles were fired at about 6:30 pm (0930 GMT) from the Sunan area of ​​North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang, which is home to an international airport and home to its largest intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the Hwasong-Data. the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) on March 17 said on March 24.

The rockets flew about 360 km (224 miles), reaching an altitude of 90 km and a maximum speed of Mach 5, the JCS said.

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US national security adviser Jake Sullivan and his South Korean counterpart Kim Sung-han spoke by phone and condemned the latest launch as a violation of UN bans, the White House said, but the US military said it posed no immediate threat to America or his allies. read more

Sullivan and Kim also discussed US President Joe Biden’s upcoming visit to South Korea, the White House said. Biden will visit South Korea and Japan from May 20-24.

The latest launches come amid concerns that North Korea is about to resume nuclear bomb tests that have been suspended since 2017. US and South Korean officials have said it could happen as early as this month. read more

Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said the missiles flew about 350 km, to a maximum height of about 100 km, before landing outside Japan’s territorial waters.

“A series of missile launches during the invasion of Ukraine is unacceptable,” he told reporters, adding that Tokyo had filed a protest against North Korea through its embassy in Beijing.

North Korea’s 16th known weapons test this year came hours after it reported its first COVID-19 outbreak, declared a “worst national emergency” and ordered a national lockdown. read more

The launch was also the first since the inauguration this week by conservative South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who has signaled a hard line against North Korea’s weapons development.

Yoon’s national security agency said it deplored “the duplicity” of firing ballistic missiles and ignoring the plight of its people in the midst of a COVID outbreak.

But it said it would not link humanitarian aid to political disagreements and the new president’s candidate as minister in charge of inter-Korean ties told its confirmation hearing that it would prepare humanitarian aid for Pyongyang, including COVID treatment, syringes and other medical supplies. read more

Some analysts have suggested that such aid could create an opening to restart stalled diplomacy with North Korea.

However, a White House National Security Council spokesperson said the United States currently has no plans to share vaccines with North Korea and that Pyongyang has repeatedly refused vaccine donations from the COVAX global vaccine-sharing project. read more

The spokesman said that while Washington continued to support international efforts aimed at providing critical humanitarian aid to the most vulnerable North Koreans, North Korea “continues to exploit its own citizens and resources of the country’s people.” for its illegal nuclear and ballistic weapons programs.”

The official said Pyongyang had created significant barriers to aid delivery by closing its borders and rejecting offers for international aid.

The United Nations said it is “monitoring with concern” reports of the COVID-19 outbreak in North Korea.

Deputy UN spokesman Farhan Haq said the United Nations stood ready to help, although they had not yet received formal communication about the outbreak. He said that even before the global pandemic, North Korea had nearly 11 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.

“We reiterate our call to allow access for international personnel, including the United Nations Resident Coordinator, and unfettered access of humanitarian supplies, to enable a timely and effective response,” he said.

In condemning the latest launch, the US State Department said it remained committed to a diplomatic approach with North Korea and reiterated a call on Pyongyang to return to dialogue.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un pledged to speed up building his nuclear arsenal late last month amid stalled denuclearization talks with the United States. read more

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Reporting by Hyonhee Shin in Seoul, David Brunnstrom and Rami Ayyub in Washington, and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Editing by Alison Williams and Alistair Bell

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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